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Hey, y’all, isn’t it nice to catch sight of a rising star? 15-year-old Mia Xitlali makes her feature film debut in Warner Bros.’ Max, the story of the lesser regaled, yet invaluable war hero, the military working dog; and what one such hero faces after facing tragedy in combat. 

Young Mia talks about her character’s fight against Latino stereotypes, her first kiss on-screen -- or anywhere, and working with her charming leading canines.

Dig it!

Max

Mia Xitlali

 

The Lady Miz Diva: Congratulations on Max, Mia. Am I correct that this is your first feature film?

Mia Xitlali: Yes it is. The only other thing I’ve ever done was a short film, and then Max is my second job, just right off the bat, I was like, are you kidding me? {Laughs}
 

LMD: How did the role of Carmen come to you?

MX: When I read what the role was; that she was comfortable around guys, she was a lover of dogs, and she was kind of a tomboy, like not really girly-girl, I just thought, ‘Well, that’s me basically. There’s not really much I have to prepare for, is it?’ I love her character, she had great dynamics. You know how characters are usually, ‘Oh, she’s a cheerleader,’ or, ‘She’s a hard girl,’ whoever, they always have little labels on them? And she didn’t, and I loved that about her, because it made her real.

My agency sent me to an audition. I auditioned for them three times, and the last time I read with Josh Wiggins, and then after a month of waiting, I thought I didn’t get it, and then I ended up getting a call and I got the part.

 

LMD: The film features a very young cast, and as we said, this is your first feature role. What did director Boaz Yakin do to put you at ease?

MX: Well, we were all pretty much newcomers to this major motion picture life {Laughs}, and he talked to us. He tried to spend as much time as he could with us to know us, so that way we’d become more comfortable with taking his direction, and it worked. So, he was really great about it and very friendly and very warming, so wasn’t that hard to be directed by him.

 

LMD: How long was the shoot, from rehearsals till the end?

MX: I’d say altogether three months.

 

LMD: Tell us about your handsome leading man, Max? I know there were several dogs playing Max, but I read that you particularly bonded with the main dog, named Carlos.

MX: Yes! He and I actually became the closest. He would follow me everywhere and at some points they had to switch him out with another dog because he only wanted to sit and stand next to me, so they were like, “Forget it, just leave him there.” They would say, “Go with Justin {Josh Wiggins}, go with Justin, go,” and he would just kneel beside me. He was so cute, I wanted to take him home.

 

LMD: You’re amazing handling the dog on-screen, it really looks like you know what you’re doing. Did you receive a lot of behind-the-scenes training in how to work with the dog?

MX: Well, the only behind-the-scenes training that they had to give me was how to hold the leash when the dog was supposed to act like he’s going crazy, so I wouldn’t hurt myself. That was about it, because in my family, I’m actually known as the dog whisperer. I have serious conversations with my dogs: I never had siblings growing up, so I only had dogs. So they would be like my brothers and sisters; and we’ll play tag and we’d race, and they would understand me, and they would play with me and they would follow directions. So, I really didn’t have a problem with it; like this was the perfect role for me.

All the people, when their dogs see me, and they’re like, ‘Oh, he’s not really comfortable with you, he doesn’t like anyone, he’s very nonsocial,’ and then I go up to them and they’re licking my face, they’re barking, and they seem really happy, wagging their tails. And their owners say, “They’ve never done that before.”

 

LMD: Was there anything about the role of the actual military dogs that you didn’t know before?

MX: They endure a lot of training. It’s a lot of training that they have to go through. They are amazing creatures; they’re strong and they’re loyal. The fact that they can go and sniff out bombs and they save lives every day is mind blowing. They’re just amazing creatures, overall.

 

LMD: There’s a good amount of physical stuff in the film. Did you train to do any of the crazy bike riding stunts or chases yourself?

MX: Well, we did do just a little; a couple of sessions of bike training, where they taught me to step on the brakes really hard and not be scared. How to go super fast. How to switch the gears on the bike that I was using, just like, to get used to it. A lot of the stunts that you see of us on the bikes is another person. Like I don’t know if this was in the movie, but they showed Carmen doing this very, very small trick, thinking she’s all bad - that wasn’t me.

 

LMD: Much of Carmen and Chuy’s dialog is joking about being Mexican and the bigotry they face in their Texas town. I actually loved the moment when Justin’s dad immediately assumes Carmen’s family breeds pit bulls for fighting, and she tells him her brother actually rescues them. How did you feel about including that aspect in the film?

MX: I thought that was great. I’m happy that they actually kept it in the movie, because it’s true. It’s like, we’re not all gonna just go and be cholos, or do stuff like that that will put all of these animals in danger. I mean, we’re not like that. We’re very good people and they need to know that. I was glad to be shown in that light in the movie. I felt like, I’m just like anyone else, there’s nothing different from me. Just because I’m brown, it doesn’t do anything.

 

LMD: Who did you look up to that made you want to be an actor?

MX: Well, my parents, actually. My entire family; we’re a family of actors and dancers; we’re just all performers and I just wanted to become an actress. It was something I was good at doing and I felt that was what I just needed to do for the rest of my life. It just felt right.

 

LMD: Well, not only is this your first big feature, but it’s also your first onscreen kiss. How did that go?

MX: Yeah… {Laughs} Well, it was the first in my entire life, so, it was interesting. I mean, everyone came out of the woodwork, I kid you not. We had to take these little carts through the woods, and these small paths to get there, to where the scene was being shot. Yet, somehow, everyone, 50 people – that I don’t even think were working on the movie – came out and stood there. I don’t know, they came out of nowhere. {Laughs} But it was all right; Josh was pretty cool about it, too, so it was all good.

 

LMD: What is next for you?

MX: Next, I have a play that is going on in Boyle Heights with Casa 0101 called Little Red, where I will be playing the punk rock version of Little Red Riding Hood. And I also have a short film called Selling Rosario, that came out a while ago, but it’s still going around the film festivals. It’s an independent film and it’s doing pretty well; it’s directed by Michael Winokur.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva
June 19th, 2015

 

 

 

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Photos  

Stills courtesy of Warner Brothers

 

 

 

 

 

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